The Australian Federal Government’s 43 percent climate target is set to be enshrined into law. For consumers and businesses this has been a long time coming. Business leaders and organisations of size and scale have played an active and vocal role in the transition to a more sustainable future. Now, with impending regulation and increased consumer scrutiny, there has never been a more critical time for brands to show up authentically. Is your brand ready to have a voice in sustainability?
Sefiani’s latest report in the Communications that Matters series, Embedding Sustainability in your narrative: risk, readiness, and opportunity, looks at the opportunities and challenges marketing leaders face when communicating about sustainability. Marketing leaders in Australia want to do more and have a strong voice in sustainability. However, there is a sense of trepidation about how much to say, how far to go, how bold to be.
The fear factor
We found that marketers were fearful of saying the wrong thing and negatively impacting brand reputation. They were challenged with how to navigate risk and opportunity across a complex and evolving backdrop. The research found that they were struggling to balance previous brand initiatives with evolving stakeholder demands. Doing all this while creating a long-term vision for the future. For many marketers this meant they did not proactively communicate about sustainability efforts. They were not able to gain executive support for sustainability-focused campaigns.
With climate change firmly on the public agenda and ‘climate wars’ over following the recent federal election, the transition to a more sustainable future is set to be swift. Brands have an imperative to take authentic action and openly share their progress. And this story must be delivered with honesty, transparency, accountability and integrity.
Embedding an authentic narrative
A brand’s sustainability narrative must be capable of withstanding the scrutiny of all stakeholders: employees, customers, partners, shareholders, government and the community. It must connect to all parts of the organisation and reflect the core focus of the brand. Although our research showed that 90 percent believe it is important for brands to have an authentic position on sustainability, 80 percent believed that most brands did not have such a position.
So how do you define your authentic sustainability story and embed this into the brand narrative? It starts with the organisations’ North Star: its purpose. When purpose and sustainability come together, brands can develop a narrative that connects tactical initiatives – whether creative marketing campaigns or product launches – to the overarching business strategy.
Australian brands such as Woolworths and Four Pillars Gin have embedded sustainability initiatives into marketing plans. For Woolworths, it’s, “To create better experiences together for a better tomorrow”. This connects all initiatives across all brands, to all stakeholders through the entire business and value chain.
Employees want to play a bigger role in being a voice in sustainability
The benefits for brands who get this right are significant. With a clear and authentic sustainability narrative, businesses can improve the bottom line. Greater innovation, better risk management, the increased attraction and loyalty of conscious customers and reduced business costs all work together to significantly boost the revenue and success of sustainable companies.
A company known for its good work in sustainability can be a magnet for talent. But employees don’t just want to work for a sustainable company, they want opportunities to shape the activity and take part in the conversation. Sefiani research found that 76 percent of employees wish for greater opportunities to participate in their companies’ sustainability conversations and have meaningful roles that support the development and delivery of key initiatives – a trend that will continue as more generations join the workforce. Employees need to be active participants in the development and delivery of sustainability initiatives.
When done well, employees are turned into sustainability champions for the organisation. These employees become the most powerful advocates both inside and outside the business. Building a workforce that is highly engaged and activated in sustainability initiatives is critical to the success and delivery of any sustainability strategy.
Every business leader has the prerogative to consider what more can be done
The speed and scale of transition to a more sustainable future will be fuelled by the actions of our leaders. There is an enormous opportunity for business leaders to drive meaningful, transformative change. But with leadership behaviour so intricately linked to brand value, the stakes are high.
Leaders must quickly establish their voice in the conversation. They must demonstrate a commitment to change and deliver the brand narrative with integrity and courage. They must show up consistently and be accountable for the actions of their business, their people, their partners, and themselves. They must answer tough questions with honesty and transparency, and drive change beyond their company footprint.
As brand marketers, we play a vital role in helping the organisations we work with successfully create and articulate change. We must also maintain a critical eye on the strategies, tactics and messaging to ensure there is tangible action behind the words.
Connecting purpose to sustainability goals allows brands to create an authentic narrative. It’s from this foundation that transparency, integrity, and leadership can be established.
In a world that is quickly tiring of empty promises, it will require a great deal of action from organisations and their leaders to make tough decisions and communicate success and failure honestly and openly. It will take courage and sustained effort. Is your organisation ready?
Mandy Galmes is the managing director, Sefiani Communications Group.